Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and two responses to darkness

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 30, 2017

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Warren Harbeck

I find the recent rise in anti-semitism deeply troubling. Exploiting that darkness to justify other forms of bigotry I find equally troubling.

As a Christian, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the witness of the Jewish people on how to be light in the midst of darkness.

Obviously, I can point to the role of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament – in shaping me. Its stories of the triumph of good over evil through patient waiting on the Lord echo through my mind and heart daily.

There’s the story of Joseph son of Jacob, for instance (Genesis 37-50). Sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers and imprisoned on false accusations, he refuses to give in to bitterness. Eventually, he’s the one person who can interpret Pharaoh’s troubling dream about impending famine. Pharaoh elevates him to the position of prime minister, just in time to save his family back home from starvation. Yes, he says upon revealing himself to his brothers, they intended evil for him, but God had something better in mind: putting him in the right place at the right time to extend forgiveness and hope to his family in their time of need.

One of my favourite Psalms uses the metaphor of springs of refreshing water in this regard. Psalm 84 speaks about Jews on a long pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. As they pass through a dry, barren wilderness, they themselves become springs of thirst-quenching water for all they encounter along the way.

I’ve seen that same life-giving impact in the witness of victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, made especially vivid to me through my associations as a member of the Calgary Council of Christians and Jews (CCCJ).

Thus, it was with great dismay that I read a very disturbing email recently. The gist of it was that certain imams in eastern Canada are proclaiming that Allah wants all Jews killed. Was this email an attempt to use examples of anti-semitism to justify Islamophobia? Darkness begetting more darkness?

I shared my concerns over that email with two of our Calgary interfaith readers, one a Jew and the other a Muslim, who have contributed often to these columns over the years.

Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, past-president of the CCCJ, responded:

“There have been recent reports such as those about a few imams who preach hate and violence toward Jews, Christians, and others.

“However, I would be very cautious about generalizing this to many imams and Muslim leaders who seek peace and cooperation with their neighbours and engage in sincere interfaith work. There are also extremist clergy in both the Jewish and Christian communities who only represent a small fringe and who are disavowed by the majority of their co-religionists.”

Muslim author Dr. David Liepert, upon reading Rabbi Shaul’s reply, sent his own response:

“Shalom Aleichum, Rabbi Shaul. God bless you for those comments and that perspective. Your words prove most true something that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., said many years ago: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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